Connections: Major Haiku book due out next year

Posted: October 30, 2012

Major haiku book  due out next year

The only time most Americans think about the brief, serene beauty of the form of deeply observational poetry known as haiku is a few days in high school when an English teacher introduces the subject.

A Winchester man, Jim Kacian, 59, has spent much of his life trying to keep this art form alive within the world of American poetry and working to connect a worldwide community of haiku lovers, which he says includes about 10 million people around the globe.

Kacian is an editor and writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry who has owned and operated Red Moon Press, the largest haiku press in the world outside of Japan, out of his home in Winchester since 1993. Red Moon Press publishes between eight and 10 volumes of haiku each year.

In addition, he runs the Haiku Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 2009 with the goal of archiving the first century of activity in English-language haiku and creating ways to explore the genre in the 21st century.

Kacian has lived in Winchester since 1985, and grew up in Gardner, Mass. He has lived in Maine and Nashville, Tenn.

Haiku is a form of collaborative poetry that originated in Japan as a high-society drinking game called renga, Kacian said.

In its English form, it involves the use of three lines of up to 17 syllables, usually including some kind of reference to nature. Haiku is a minimalist form of expression, leaving much to the reader’s imagination.

An example of a haiku, written by the Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, follows:

Snap your finger

stop the world —

rain falls harder.

The biggest recent news in the haiku world is the upcoming publication of Kacian’s “Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years,” which has a publication date of May 2013 by W.W. Norton. An initial printing of 1,000 hard copies, 10,000 paperbacks and 1,500 e-books is anticipated. Kacian said it will easily be the largest initial press run for a haiku book ever.

Kacian has been working on this anthology since 1998, and estimates that he’s been actively gathering material for it for a total of eight years.

The book will include a 180-page overview of the history of American haiku and 800 poems written by 235 poets.

Haiku first gained popularity in the U.S. beginning in 1963 with the publication of American Haiku, the first haiku journal, in Platteville, Wis. Kacian said the first generation of U.S. haiku poets is now dying out.

“Some of them, like Jim Bull, were seminal poets,” he says. “One thing the foundation aims to do is to get them on videotape and get a sense of their movement in space.”

Prior to the 1960s, there was a period in the early 20th century when the poets Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and some of the other imagist poets pursued haiku. The best--known haiku by Pound is “In a Station of the Metro.”

It follows:

The apparition of these faces  in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

After World War II, he said, the Beat Generation writers Allen Ginsburg, Kerouac and Gary Snyder, reinvigorated interest in haiku.

Kacian has been writing poetry since his high school days. His interest in haiku dates from his early reading of Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums” and, later, reading some haiku verses.

The small, quiet observations of haiku poetry may seem to have little connection to the bustling American scene, but Kacian said haiku is easily adaptable as an art form here because the English language is the most flexible in the world.

“We’ve accommodated haiku very well in the U.S.,” he said.